The Pirate Game
Had the steady stream of fat merchant vessels laden withbounty from Sargava not lured a plague of seaborne raiders, the archipelagic region known as the Shackles might still be void of civilization, having been almost completely cut off from the Inner Sea region by the Eye of Abendego. For centuries now, buccaneers have successfully used the various islands as convenient berths from which to launch their nefarious schemes. Hidden coves originally used for ship repair and restocking needed supplies grew into dozens of full-fledged settlements, eventually attracting many of the sort of legitimate businesspeople common in thriving towns. Soon merchants with more guts than scruples began taking what was coined “the southwestern vacation”—sailing galleons with ample cargo space to the renegade towns in the Shackles to trade for stolen goods at bargain prices. The major neighboring naval powers have made countless attempts to eradicate piracy radiating from the Shackles, but no effort has thus far succeeded.
But while these nations failed to disrupt the Shackles in the past, the emergence of the permanent hurricane known as the Eye of Abendego did manage to upset this maritime industry of organized larceny for a time. Trade routes were wildly altered by the never-ending storms, and Sargava’s lucrative traffic withered to almost nothing. The disparate pirate captains and bandit gangs fell to infighting over the suddenly slim pickings and would have eventually destroyed themselves had it not been for more farsighted pirate captains who met in Port Peril. Through much verbal wrangling (and at least two inconclusive fist fights), these freebooters managed to draft guidelines for a loose confederacy that has survived to this day. The Shackles are now loosely governed by the Pirate Council, a league of the most powerful lords of the region’s various islands and ports who rule alongside the elected Hurricane King.
Though the Shackles does technically possess a government, the Free Captains who sail its waters hardly consider themselves ruled. There is no true royalty in the Shackles—only a collection of the fiercest independent raiders and risk-takers. In reality, their “king” is merely the most powerful and widely respected pirate in the region, and his inf luence is enough to unify the otherwise disparate captains in the pursuit of ill-gotten prosperity. The select few members of the Pirate Council are among the most powerful Free Captains in the Shackles, and hold sway through force of arms as well as force of will. In the Shackles, courage, skill, and cunning are respected, not heritage or divine mandate.
While not just any self-proclaimed pirate can garner the attention of the Hurricane King or gain a position on the Pirate Council, anyone in possession of a ship can declare herself a Free Captain, and can make a name for herself with enough guile and luck. Free Captains see the Eye of Abendego not as a curse, but as a paradoxical blessing. Thanks to this vicious maelstrom, Free Captains are able to raid the shipping lanes north of the Eye with impunity and retreat just as quickly behind it; their superior knowledge of the tricky shoals and reefs of the seas around the unending hurricane provide the necessary edge against less skillful pilots who hope to thwart them. The Shackles have now experienced more than 30 years of roguish prosperity despite constant futile efforts by numerous powerful nations and mercantile conglomerates seeking to end the scourge. The only nation of the Inner Sea that possesses a treaty with the Shackles is lonely Sargava, which provides the pirate nation tribute in return for protection from Cheliax’s depredations.
While humans dominate the majority of the Shackles, larger concentrations of half-elves and half-orcs also call the archipelago home—perhaps here their mixed blood elicits less bigotry than in more sophisticated nations. A substantial number of tengus live among the islands as well, drawn to the freebooting spirit of the place and prized as mascots by many superstitious crews. The islands of the Shackles remain a powerful magnet for outcasts, outlaws, and outsized personalities. The dangers of the archipelago are legion, but the potential rewards are equally enormous, and if there is one universal truth within the Shackles, it is that the meek need not apply.